July 27, 2009


ON A recent lazy Sunday morning, while channel surfing, I came across a C-SPAN TV show entitled "Booknotes." The particular episode I fortuitously discovered was about Joseph Sohm, a former history teacher, who has spent over 30 years photographing people, places and events in America. His photos have been published over 50,000 times in publications such as National Geographic, Time, The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Mr. Sohm has a new book out entitled, "Visions of America: Photographing Democracy. The book is the result of photos taken over 30 years from all fifty states that depict different aspects of American democracy. The author recently spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, DC about his life as a photographer, his body of work and his new book. His remarks captivated me but then I am a patriot and a photographer.

Watch the video of Mr. Sohm's talk here.

Read more about Mr. Sohm's new book here.

Visit the "Visions of America" website here. (Be sure to check out the "photo gallery" here).

July 15, 2009


MICROSOFT LAUNCHED its own Twitter search engine today. BingTweets mashes up real-time Twitter search with results from Bing, the increasingly popular search engine. According to the NY Times, "the results is an interesting hybrid product that puts Bing's search results at the center of the experience, while the real-time Twitter feed appears in a sidebar on the left."

Bingtweets looks like an interesting project, but while its tagline is "Fusing Twitter Trends with Bing Insights," the reality is that it displays a Twitter feed next to Bing's search results and there is no real fusion between the two."

The Times continued, "We do like, however, that Microsoft stressed overall trends on Twitter and allows users to quickly get a grasp on what a trending topic is about. After all, Bing's results often display information about current news events like the earthquake in New Zealand today, for example. Breaking these trends down by popular terms, people, places, and products is also quite nice, and we are not aware of any other Twitter search engine that currently does this. We also like the ability to share results directly on Twitter through an oversized form at the top of the page."

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July 12, 2009


AFRICANS ARE gathering at different capital cities Saturday to listen and watch a live video stream of U.S. President Barrack Obama's historic speech to Ghana's Parliament.

People are watching his speech at U.S. embassies in the region, while others participate online via Twitter, Facebook, and the White House blog. The visit is historic because it is the first time it will involve social media and because Obama is visiting Ghana rather than Nigeria, the western African powerhouse; and Kenya, his father's birthplace.

Using campaign-style techniques, Obama's message during his first venture into sub-Saharan Africa consists of the so-called "watch parties" at embassies, broadcasts in "public spaces" and streaming live content on social-networking sites. In Kenya, the U.S. embassy has organized a watch party at the Intercontinental hotel.

The U.S. government has set up a site where users can register to receive SMS (Short Message Service) updates about Obama's visit and send messages and comments. The visit organizers invited users to pre-send SMS messages via MXit, a South African SMS service with 14 million users worldwide.

"We are very proud to have been asked to be part of a campaign to better understand and engage with African youth," said Herman Heunis, MXits founder and CEO.

Obama's visit has generated a lot of debate, because he is insisting on visiting countries that show good examples of democracy and good governance, sending stern messages to countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya.

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July 9, 2009


I HAPPEN to be attending the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT-I know it's a mouthful) conference in Spokane, Washington. Tonight I had a choice of going on a dinner cruise on Lake Coeur d'Alene or taking a walking "ghost" tour of the The Davenport Hotel (where I am staying). Not having a lot of energy after a long day of seminars, I decided to return to my room, do some work and maybe get some dinner delivered by room service.

I sat down at a fine wooden desk to check my email and saw that a colleague had sent me a link to one of the sessions from the Buzz 2009: Social Media for Associations event. The session was called from "Brainstorm to Firestorm: Creating an Environment for Viral Marketing Success." The title peaked my curiosity, but not only did it sound interesting, the discussion was led by one of my favorite guys - Guy Kawaski and the panelists included Andy Sernovitz, Brendan Hart, Stacey Kane and Stephanie Miller.

I clicked on the link the colleague had sent my way and I watched the 1 hour 37 minute session. The topic attracted me because my organization has experimented with Twitter and other social media sites as a way to connect with voters. The panel discussion centered on how companies could create buzz using social media and some of the ideas opened my eyes - and all of them could be applied to the public sector.
I highly recommend listening to the session if you are interested in viral marketing and how social media can help your company, government agency and/or association - you can watch the video here.

After the program ended I was reenergized about our social media efforts.

Shortly afterwords, I happened on a LA Times news story that was related to creating a "firestorm" but in a different way. The story was about a fellow who flew on United Airlines from Nova Scotia to Nebraska and the baggage handlers evidently broke his $3,500 guitar and to make matters worse, the company subsequently refused to take responsibility for the damage.

The long and short of it is that the fellow (Dave Carroll) wrote a song about the incident and posted it on YouTube. The music video has now been seen by 795,657 folks and United Airlines has apparently apologized and wants to use the video in its training classes.

While the panel discussion from Buzz2009 centered on how organizations could create a buzz using social media, the same thing is true for consumers, constituents, customers and individuals. Imagine for just a moment if the damaged guitar story was about a constituent who had received horrible treatment at the hands of some bureaucratic government agency.

How would the government agency have responded to a similar video posted on YouTube? How would you have responded if you were that agency's unfortunate manager?

The bottom line here is that social media and the Internet are changing the rules for the way in which the government and constituents interact. The government has "new" resources to reach the people it ostensibly serves but it is also true that constituents have new power - gone are the days of the painfully slow "letter writing campaigns" - today, thousands of people can hear a complaint (or compliment) with just a few keystrokes on a computer.

My suggestion - invest some time and energy and learn more about how social media tools might help you better serve people in your area.

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July 4, 2009


Enjoy the holiday, the fireworks and all the history than has gone before us.

July 3, 2009


A MAJORITY of U.S. voters registered by mail, fax, e-mail or through a motor vehicle agency from 2006 through 2008, a U.S. agency reported Wednesday.

The federal Election Assistance Commission issued its report in accordance with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, the agency said in a release. The report presents information provided by the states on the number of registered voters, the registration process and voter registration list maintenance, and is available at www.eac.gov.

During the two-year time period, a plurality of voters, 30.1 percent, applied for registration at motor vehicle agencies, and 28.8 percent by mail, fax or e-mail, the report said. Still, 14.9 percent applied the old-fashioned way in person at elections offices.

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July 1, 2009


TOO OFTEN, attention to problems with the nation’s electoral process rises and falls with the coming and going of election seasons.

Occasionally it happens that events force the issue back onto the agenda, such as the upheaval in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore.

A new discussion began this week when the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act; Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion ensures that the constitutional question will continue to be raised.

But there is a persistent threat to ballot access from election to election, and it is implicated in all reform debates: the voter registration system.

Unlike on many issues in election law and administration, there is a surprising amount of agreement on both sides of the aisle about how to modernize the registration system, for example, by eliminating arcane inefficiencies that waste resources, disenfranchise voters, frustrate election officials and complicate campaigns.

For two years, we were on opposite sides of a historic election, serving as general counsels to the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns. As adversaries, we disagreed passionately about many issues.

Our roles in the campaign, however, were often similar; each of us was responsible for guiding our candidates and campaigns through the overly complex gantlet of election administration. Those experiences led us to an inescapable conclusion: Bringing our voter registration system into the 21st century must be the priority for improving the election process.

It is fortunate that many now recognize this pressing need. Election officials, voting experts, candidates, campaign operatives, policy-makers from both parties and —- most important —- voters are frustrated by the current registration system and the resources it wastes, the fact that millions of eligible Americans are prevented from casting ballots and the insufficiency of the current protections against registration fraud.

These problems are rooted in the system’s near-exclusive reliance on paper voter registration forms.

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THE POPULAR White House online town hall meeting makes its return today on the Internet at 10:15 PDT. The topic is healthcare reform.

President Obama will answer questions from an on-site audience at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Va., as well as queries from the Internet. His senior advisor Valerie Jarrett will moderate the event. Unlike Obama's March town hall, which pulled questions about job creation and the economy from a user-generated list on the White House Web site, this time the administration has reached out to social networking site Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

You can watch, discuss, and engage through a Facebook live-stream chat application and viewers can send comments at WhiteHouse.gov/live or take part in a conversation on Twitter using hashtag #WHHCQ.

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